Six of the Best - Graphic Novels and Illustrated Books for Older Children

Graphic novels are a category that not everyone considers when choosing a new book to read. Many think of them as being no more than childish comic books, and whilst there is a huge industry producing graphic novels that expound on the adventures of masked super-heroes, Belgian detectives and their dogs, and more, the concept of graphic novels embraces more than you might realise

With the help of The Book Trust's team of expert reviewers, we look at six of the best graphic novels to suit variety of interests, levels of maturity, and reading ages. Remember these age suggestions are just a guide, and the important thing is to find something that is suitable for your child and appeals to them.


The Marvels

by Brian Selznick (Scholastic)

The Marvels is one of those rare books that both children and adults will love. It weaves together two seemingly unrelated stories - one in words, the other in pictures.

The illustrated story begins in 1766, while the prose story opens in 1990. The illustrations are captivating and cinematic, and draw the reader into the fascinating history of the Marvel family. Selznick is especially skilled at showing the passage of time and the emotions of characters. The illustrated story ends quite abruptly and mysteriously, leaving the reader desperate to figure out just what happened to the Marvels and how they are connected to Joseph and his family. Selznick leaves a trail of tantalising clues throughout the prose story - and the reveal is worth the wait. More than just a mystery, The Marvels is a heart-warming story about growing up, identity, and family: both the ones we're born with and the ones we make for ourselves. It's also a book for anyone who loves London, the theatre, a good mystery or a wonderful story.

Reading age: 10+
Interest level: 10+


Tales From Outer Suburbia

by Shaun Tan (Templar)

This beautifully illustrated book of short stories explores unexpected and fantastical situations that occur behind an average suburban façade.

A water buffalo is resident at the end of one girl's street. A small alien-like exchange student comes to stay with a family and his unique and surprising parting gift is illustrated by a stunning double-page spread. Another family discover a secret inner courtyard at the top of their house, where the seasons are reversed. These often thought-provoking stories look at the reactions ordinary people have to the unusual situations they find themselves in and feature a host of different illustrative styles ranging from collage to painterly Edward Hopper-esque scenes. This is a book to treasure, with more to discover on each re-reading.

Reading age: 10+
Interest level: 11+


The Isobel Journal

by Isobel Harrop (Hot Key)

Subtitled 'Just a Northern Girl from Where Nothing Really Happens', this beautifully-presented book from 18-year-old debut author Isobel Harrop is a vivid scrapbook of teenage life.

Bringing together a collection of quirky sketches, doodles, mini graphic novels, photographs and captions, it makes for a delightful visual treat. Harrop's witty narrative voice is always strong and distinctive, whether she is grappling with love and romance, or sharing her favourite things, from the bands she loves to cute otters and cups of tea. Her energetic, quirky illustration style is also hugely appealing, making this a book that will grab the attention of teen readers who enjoy the visual as much as the verbal - and her creative talent will no doubt serve as inspiration to other aspiring young writers and artists. A fresh and charmingly frank portrait of teen life which perfectly captures the day-to-day realities of growing up, The Isobel Journal will leave readers excited to see what Harrop will come up with next.

Reading age: 12+
Interest level: 13+


Romeo and Juliet: Manga Shakespeare

by Sonia Leong and William Shakespeare, adapted by Richard Appignanesi (Self Made Hero)

Set in modern Tokyo, with the Capulets and Montagues recast as organised-crime rivals, and abridged enough to move quickly without sacrificing content or meaning, this racy retelling gets to the heart of the love story and the foolish rivalry that dooms it.

The opening colour pages with the cast of characters drawn large will help readers follow the story, as will the plot summary at the end. Indeed, graphic format may be the closest text can come to simulating the stage, and the art makes it relevant for a new generation - including an image of a cell phone with 'No Signal' to explain why Romeo doesn't know Juliet is really alive. Gorgeous, readable, original - a winning representation of one of the greatest love stories ever told.

Reading age: 13+
Interest level: 13+


Alpha: Abidjan to Gare du Nord

by Bessora Barroux, translated by Sarah Ardizzone (The Bucket List)

Alpha is leaving the Ivory Coast where he has lived all his life. He hasn't made the decision lightly, but the dangerous journey to another country is still a better choice than staying where he is.

His wife and child have already left, and they've agreed to meet at Gare du Nord in France, where he has friends they can stay with while they start a new life. But Alpha's journey with people traffickers, through inhuman refugee camps and on the overcrowded boats across perilous waters, is unimaginably awful. A powerful, terrible and essential story, Alpha should be required reading for everyone. The story's format as a graphic novel, created by renowned illustrator Barroux with just the basic materials that could conceivably be found by a refugee, highlights the terror and hopelessness experienced by someone forced to leave their own country in search of a future.

Reading age: 14+
Interest level: 14+


Dotter of Her Father's Eyes

by Bryan and Mary Talbot (Jonathan Cape)

This graphic novel tells two stories: that of the childhood of Mary Talbot, daughter of the eminent Joyce scholar James Atherton (and now respected academic in her own right), and that of Lucia, daughter of James Joyce himself.

Neither of these tales is an easy one: Atherton is a bad-tempered and domineering presence in Mary's life - her 'cold mad feary father' - whose charm and wit are reserved for public display only. Lucia, on the other hand, has her ambitions to become a dancer cut short by the demands of James Joyce's literary career and the pressures of social expectation. The work is illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Mary's husband and author of a number of highly-regarded graphic novels including The Tale of One Bad Rat and Alice in Sunderland, and his exceptional draftsmanship and stylistic range are employed here to great effect. Each page is beautifully composed, and a number of deft visual motifs provide a visual counterpoint to Mary's words: under his pen and brush, eyes become abstracted to single dots except at moments of emotional resonance or crisis; Mary's childhood becomes awash with a nicotine fug of greys, browns and yellows; whilst Lucia's life in Paris takes is rendered in an austere palette of blues and whites. Above all, what marks this book is its lightness of touch. Though the reader is invited to make comparisons between the two lives, the accomplishment with which the narratives are intertwined ensures that these juxtapositions are not forced or heavy-handed, and the result is a work that is both subtle and moving.

Reading age: 13+
Interest level: 15+